Project Management Mentoring and Training

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When IT and consulting giant GTSI decided actively to change its business model from a products to a services provider, it opted to work with a third party to implement a new project management training and mentoring program.

“The people we had within different pockets of the organization didn’t really have the skill set to properly manage a project,” said Sonya Williams, director of customer operations. “We needed to institute a program that would provide a solid foundation for those managing projects within GTSI.”

The program would also create consistency across management teams and thereby enhance efficiency, Williams added.

“Every time we manage a project, it’s managed in the same way; we’re following the same processes; information is shared among those who manage projects,” she said. “The more efficient processes you have, the less handoffs you have, less duplication of work. And if you’re doing all those things correctly, you’re going to increase customer satisfaction.”

Bridget Atkinson, vice president of human resources and organizational development at GTSI, said the genesis of the plan occurred in February 2006, when the company recognized an increasingly high turnover rate in its staff.

“We were basically hemorrhaging,” Atkinson said. “You’re losing a lot of their expertise and processes [when employees] walk out the door. We knew we needed to take a different approach with regard to our human capital programs.”

The resulting project management plan was tailored to address GTSI’s specific needs and included the creation of several subprograms and the introduction of new employee tools.

“We determined the major things that we needed to focus on in order to facilitate improvement in retention, career path development and employee commitment,” Atkinson said.

A human capital steering committee was established to discuss progress and keep momentum going. Special process action teams — known as PATs — were also formulated for each issue GTSI was tackling.

Williams spearheaded a particular PAT addressing the issue of knowledge loss due to turnover.

“Sonya took on that particular process action team to essentially build a library of key processes throughout the organization and then look at ways to improve efficiencies there,” Atkinson said.

GTSI also put in a framework for identifying competencies and created a high-potentials program to aid career advancement and improve employee commitment. For those employees who were interested in managerial roles but not yet committed to them, the company created a manager transition program, by which staff members could “test-drive it and get a feel for it before they jump all the way in, and determine that it is or is not for them,” Atkinson said.

A lot of personal attention was also woven into the project management plan: 360 reviews, online tools such as a talent management portal, individual goal planners, and executive and high-potential coaching.

“We’re not going to just throw them out there and say, ‘Hey, learn a new skill set.’ We’re going to give them a partner to help nudge them and grow them and develop them into stronger leaders for the organization,” Atkinson said.

In addition to more than 100 online training programs, GTSI also established a project-management certification system to supplement its more than 50 technology certifications.

“We’re a very intense certification company,” Atkinson said. “Within the manager tracks that we’re building, there are going to be certifications that they will take. They’ll take introductory management training; there will be an advanced managerial certification program. So, those things are already existing but also a work in progress for us.”

Williams added that those employees currently managing projects on a regular basis are required to get Project Management Professional [PMP] certifications, while those who aren’t are encouraged to get either a PMP or a Certified Associate Project Manager [CAPM] certification.

The new project management training and mentoring program has had a profound impact on GTSI, Atkinson and Williams said.

“We saw a huge improvement, year over year, in our employee commitment,” Atkinson said. “[It] went up to 90 percent. They’re excited about the changes we’re making; there’s a high level of confidence in the leadership and in the management teams — so we now have a very engaged employee workforce.”

Additionally, employee turnover went from what Atkinson called “an astounding 52 percent” in February 2006 to roughly 13 percent today.

“It’s driving us toward a culture that is more disciplined toward accountability,” Atkinson said. “People can see and have an input in how it’s going to affect their area and buy into that process. They’re going to own it and be more supportive of the overall initiative.”

Additionally, the program educated managers on departmental interaction and the ramifications of their decisions.

“In the past, we’ve been very good at working in silence,” Atkinson said. “We may want to put a new process in place in our contract management group but not even consider how this impacts the sales organization.”

Williams added: “When you’re managing a project, you’re touching so many pieces of an organization that you don’t realize until you’ve actually gone through a certification program like PMP. It really makes it much clearer to you all the different people that you affect.

“The PMP has not only helped us in managing our projects, but also caused us to think about the way we manage processes in general,” she said.

Though the success of GTSI’s project management training and mentoring initiative has been sizeable as is, Atkinson and Williams are determined to keep the plan fluid.

“As with any business, we’re going to continue to evolve our model as we need to — with regard to what our customers are looking for,” Atkinson said. “This industry is very fast paced, very fast moving. We’ve got to continually add additional skills and certifications in order to stand out.”

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